Lesson Plan 1 "Eli Thayer and the Kansas-Nebraska Act"


This lesson will connect the organization of the Kansas and Nebraska Territories to Massachusetts through the work of Eli Thayer of Worcester.

Guiding Question

In what ways did the citizens of Massachusetts, and later citizens of New England, affect the spread of slavery into the newly-organized areas of the United States?

Learning Objectives

  1. Students will understand how Eli Thayer planned to help to insure that the newly-organized territory of Kansas would become a "free" state according to the tersm of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
  2. Students will discuss reasons that Thayer's plan might not work.
  3. Students will be able to list some of those groups of people, especially in Massachusetts, who were able to supprt Thayer's plan.

Preparing to Teach This Lesson

The teacher teaching this lesson should be familiar with the events leading to the creation of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. A good resource for the teacher to use to gain this background is David M. Potter's The Impending Crisis, 1848- 1861. The Kansas Crusade, by Eli Thayer, was written in 1889 and published by Harper and Brothers in New York. This volume is available at some university libraries and also at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. This would be helpful reading and is very readable by high school students, but is not a necessary read to cover this topic. Students should read any high school United States history text for background on this topic.

The Kansas Crusade was an attempt to persuade citizens of Massachusetts, and later from all of New England, to move to the newly-organized territory of Kansas in order to prevent it from becoming another slave state when it entered the Union. Thayer was from Worcester, Massachusetts, and he was a member of the House of Representatives. Thayer also founded the Oread Institute, the first secondary school designed for female students.

Other sources for students are:

A secondary source documenting the New England Emigrant Aid Society and its work in moving people from the New England area to Kansas

Time line of event leading to the American Civil War

Kansas Crusade: Eli Thayer and the New England Emigrant Aid Company
Horace Andrews, Jr., The New England Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Dec., 1962), pp. 497-51, Available at www.Jstor.com

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster, 2005. Chapter 5, The Turbulent Fifties offers a very good sketch of the period and factors leading to the Act.

These sites offer both the teacher and student considerable resources concerning Kansas – Nebraska, as well as many links to other sites that also are very helpful.


  1. The students will complete background reading in their textbook regarding Kansas-Nebraska.
  2. Each student will be given a copy of the excerpt from The Kansas Crusade and will be asked to read and study it.
  3. A class discussion will center around the objectives of the lesson.
  4. Each student will be asked to produce an essay that discusses Thayer's efforts to insure the status of Kansas.


Student essays will be assessed. Questions on quiz or test can be used and should be centered on the Objective and Guiding Questions for this lesson.

Massachusetts Framework Standards Addressed

USI.36 Summarize the critical developments leading to the Civil War. (H)

F. the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)

Time Required

Depending on the time available and involvement of your stduents, this lesson should take between one and two 56-minute lessons and two homework extensions.

Skills Used

Students will use their skills of deduction and cause and effect, as well as use methods of analysis to complete this assignment.